Biomedical Sciences

Biography of Professor Mary Pickford

A short biography of Professor (Lillian) Mary Pickford, FRS FRSE - 14th August 1902 - 14th August 2002

A first of many firsts

Professor Mary Pickford was the first woman to be appointed to a medical Chair at the University of Edinburgh when she became Professor of Physiology in 1966.

Throughout her life she overcame the barriers to pursuing a career in science as a woman in the 20th century and became highly regarded as a meticulous experimentalist and an engaging medical educator. She was also highly supportive of young scientists

Mary became the first female member of the British Pharmacological Society in 1935. The award of a Beit Memorial Research Fellowship in 1936 forged her research career and she re-joined Verney, now in Cambridge. In 1939 she was appointed to a lectureship in the Department of Physiology at the University of Edinburgh where she remained until her retirement in 1972.

Pioneering research

A pioneer in the field of neuroendocrinology she made major contributions to our understanding of the central regulation of hormone release from the posterior pituitary gland and the control of renal and reproductive physiology. Her early discovery of the antidiuretic effect of acetylcholine injection into the brain, through control of posterior pituitary hormone release, provided one of the earliest insights into the role of acetylcholine as a neurotransmitter in the brain (J Physiol (1939) 95:226-238).

Her work in the 1950’s utilising dogs provided the pivotal insight that the posterior pituitary releases two independent hormones that have different roles in the body (J Physiol (1954) 126:329-346). Antidiuretic hormone (ADH), also known as vasopressin, controls water balance by acting at the kidney. Oxytocin regulates parturition and the ‘milk ejection reflex’ by acting at the uterus and mammary gland respectively. In addition to her body of scientific papers she published a popular scientific paperback ‘The Central Role of Hormones’ in 1969.

The Mary Pickford Lecture

This lecture is held annually in honour of Prof Mary Pickford's pioneering research as an experimental physiologist and is supported by the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences

Link to details on the annual lecture